Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Poppy Dilemma – How social pressure opened my door long enough for someone to get a foot in

Every autumn, something strange happens in the United Kingdom. People in military uniform stand on almost every corner asking people for a small donation of £1 in exchange for a paper poppy. Having just moved to the UK, I was unaware of how big a deal Poppy Season is to the British People, but before long almost everyone in eyesight was sporting one of these paper flowers to show their support.
Last year, over 36 million poppies were sold on behalf of The Royal British Legion Charity ("Poppy Appeal 2017 | The Royal British Legion", 2018). The RBLC is an organisation aiming to provide financial, social and emotional support to members and veterans of the British Armed Forces, their families and dependents.

After looking into where the money goes, I decided not to purchase a Poppy, because in my opinion, the government should be responsible for providing for its veterans, not the well-meaning public. This seemed to me like the government was abusing social values and good intentions to get out of paying their veterans properly (and looking like the good guys whilst doing it).

However, people started asking me why I wasn’t wearing one, and didn’t seem too pleased with my answer. I started to feel the pressure growing, and eventually caved due to what Deutsch and Gerrard (1955) would have called normative conformity. Even though I disagreed with the whole Poppy thing, I ended up buying and wearing one. After all, they’re only a pound.

Albeit, not long after I had conformed, I had another encounter with the Poppy Appeal. Only this time they were asking for more than a pound.  This ad came up everywhere

And to my own surprise, I started to consider donating a little bit of money every month. I mean, it’s not the soldiers fault the government doesn’t pay them. Two days later I set up a monthly direct debit for £3. It took me 4 month to find the strength to cancel it.

This is because I had fallen prey to the  foot-in-the-door technique (Freedman & Fraser, 1966). When people agree to a previous smaller request, they are more likely to fulfil a larger one. Pliner, Hart, Kohl & Saari (1974) conducted a study showing this effect when people were first asked to wear a sign of support (a lapel pin), and later asked to a larger sum of money. The researchers compared compliance with the money donation between participants who had been asked to wear the lapel pin (prior request condition) and those who had not (no prior request condition). They found that less than half (45.7%) of the no prior request participants made any donation, whereas 74.1% of those who had been asked to wear the pin gave money. Petrova et al. (2007) explained that this is because people want their behaviour to be consistent. I wear the badge, why not make the donation? So, as long as any two requests are consistent (i.e. helping veterans), people will give comply.


Deutsch, M., & Gerard, H. B. (1955). A study of normative and informational social influences upon     individual judgment. The journal of abnormal and social psychology, 51(3), 629.

Freedman, J., & Fraser, S. (1966). Compliance without pressure: The foot-in-the-door technique.          Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 4(2), 195-202.

Pliner, P., Hart, H., Kohl, J., & Saari, D. (1974). Compliance without pressure: Some further data on          the foot-in-the-door technique. Journal Of Experimental Social Psychology, 10(1), 17-22.

Poppy Appeal 2017 | The Royal British Legion. (2018). Retrieved 4 March 2018,     from               appeals/poppy-appeal-2017/

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